The very complicated legacy of entertainer Little Richard is thoroughly examined in a new documentary by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, Lisa Cortés. The film showcases a bold, audacious man who's trying to navigate his life through sex, drugs, rock and roll, and the Lord – with the help of archival footage mixed with deep, social context from family, friends, scholars, ethnomusicologists, and on-screen fact-checkers. Join us as host Eddie Robinson chats unguarded with celebrated director, Lisa Cortés, about her critically-acclaimed documentary, "Little Richard: I Am Everything." Cortés shares insight into how the film was conceived and why it was important for her to reveal the struggles of Richard Wayne Penniman – a musical icon who was coming to terms with being a man of faith as well as being a man who was queer. I SEE U will also dive into her own personal life story, as the former Def Jam record label executive offers up her thoughts on today's LGBTQ+ artists and performers maneuvering through the music industry in their quest to make a name for themselves.
Eddie Robinson: Little Richard. A gay black man in the 1950s was a pioneer of the music industry. White owned radio stations banned his music. But when white performers like Pat Boone and Elvis Presley sang covers of his songs, they soared to the top of the charts.
Lisa Cortés: We know about appropriation, but it is oblation that is the greater tragedy.
Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson and stay tuned as I SEE U Chat’s unguarded with acclaimed film director Lisa Cortés. Her documentary showcases the music icons journey from growing up in Georgia to his complicated later years as an evangelist who had renounce his homosexuality. The film also highlights musicians, scholars, friends, and family who paid tribute to Little Richard’s courage and his remarkable contributions to music.
Eddie Robinson: Oh yeah. I feel you. We hear you. I SEE U.
Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m your host, Eddie Robinson. Before Elvis, there was this man right here, Little Richard. This highly influential and legendary singer songwriter, performer. Led an interesting life that was just as wild and energetic as his onstage presence.
Eddie Robinson: A self-proclaimed originator and innovator, rock and roll music. Little Richard. Born Richard Wayne Penniman sold millions of records world. But the music industry kept him from cashing in on some of his biggest hits.
Eddie Robinson: Unfortunately, the little Richard died of cancer in the year 2020, at the age of 87, though he hardly ever received the respect or credit that was due to him prior to his passing. A new documentary about his life and legacy is looking to change all that. Here’s an audio snippet of the trailer for the film, Little Richard. I am everything directed by Lisa Cortés.
Eddie Robinson: We’re so honored to have with us virtually from our home in Harlem, New York Academy Award nominated an Emmy award-winning film producer and acclaimed director Lisa Cortés. Lisa, thank you so much for being a guest on I SEE U.
Lisa Cortés: Hi Eddie. I am so excited to be in conversation with you.
Eddie Robinson: That sounds so remarkable. First off, I sincerely applaud you for stepping into the complexities of little Richard’s life. You know, I have actually been waiting for years for someone to help me put this man’s life and career into perspective. I’m from Macomb, Mississippi. This is the same place back in 1964 that was known as the bombing capital of the world.
Eddie Robinson: This small city in Mississippi and growing up an only child, super religious household. Having to suppress feelings of attraction for another man using music as an escapade. I loved music. I loved DJing and listening to all kinds of genres back in the day. This is what saved me music. So though I grew up in the early seventies, I didn’t quite listen to much Little Richard as a kid.
Eddie Robinson: But I knew of his music. I knew of his persona, but I couldn’t quite grasp what he identified himself as being sort of like Prince,
Eddie Robinson: how he’d keep people guessing for a period of time. But unlike Prince, Little Richard was flam. I mean, he put the, he put the flame in flamboyant, you know, very unapologetic. But I was surprised as I watched your documentary to see that yes, he indeed, in some interviews, admitted that he was gay. And I didn’t know that up until seeing the footage here.
Eddie Robinson: Um, uh, but instead he, you know, really sort of, Broadcasted, you know, everywhere. But he let his actions speak for themselves for better or worse. But when he passed away, I’m thinking in 2020. Here comes an amazing film about his life. Here comes the TV drama series, perhaps even a streamed full-length feature of his life, his career, his his legacy.
Eddie Robinson: Nothing came up on my radar, and so I’m really grateful that finally, finally, a documentary that really puts this man’s entire life in a perspective and analysis. For what everyone can understand, regardless of your own sexual orientation, your age, your ethnicity, this is a film that everyone needs to watch and see.
Eddie Robinson: I applaud you for what you’ve done here with this release, Little Richard. I am everything. Thank you for this documentary, Lisa Cortés.
Lisa Cortés: Thank you, Eddie. And you know, when we were speaking before, This interview began and you mentioned Langston Hughes and the inspiration for the show and the conversations.
Lisa Cortés: I think of that great poem of his and him saying, I too Sing America.
Eddie Robinson: Yes.
Lisa Cortés: And I want to see how beautiful I am. Well, we know that oftentimes the stories that have been told of African Americans have been limited in the aperture.
Lisa Cortés: They have not been big enough to show us in our multitudes, to show us in our complexity, and Little Richard’s story allows one to interrogate so much. A man born in the South, someone who explodes on the music scene in 1955, who throughout the course of his life is pulled between sex and drugs and rock and roll and the Lord, and is trying to navigate who he is on that rollercoaster.
Lisa Cortés: But, American, you know, this is a story that is so important at a time when we are being told that African American history should be sidelined, that queer history and queer people are under attack. And to show that little Richard is a uniquely American story, it is in conversation with the moment that we’re in.
Eddie Robinson: Was this film, you know, very difficult to put together, you know, all the video and the arrc, the archival footage. You know, with this documentary, you didn’t have the luxury of having him alive, and so it felt like you had to rely on a great deal of previous interviews and vintage footage of him on other shows in order to piece this man’s life puzzle together. Right?
Lisa Cortés: Well, it, you know, Eddie, the scaffolding for the film was giving the mic to Little Richard. Okay,
Eddie Robinson: there you go.
Lisa Cortés: That that’s the spirit of who he’s about. He’s like, let me tell you who I am. Let me tell, as my mother would used to say, let me tell you what it is, not what it’s, but what it is. And I wanted to give him the agency to tell his story and at the beginning of the project, One of the first things you know I sought to do was a deep archival search to confirm that I could have Richard telling his story from cradle to grave, and we searched all over and there were the usual suspects, and then there were new places in archival that we found once I felt.
Lisa Cortés: That Richard could narrate his story. I was like, okay, he’s not the most reliable narrator sometimes. So we need to have some onscreen fact checkers. And so that’s why the next step was, hmm, family, friends, musicians, and then our incredible scholars as very intentional in who I chose to provide a social context for him and his times, and.
Lisa Cortés: Those are kind of the building blocks of Sure. This gumbo that was created a cosmic gumbo to tell Richard’s story.
Eddie Robinson: It’s I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson, chatting with acclaimed film director Lisa Cortés, about her new documentary called Little Richard. I Am Everything. Yeah. And you were able to put together these remarkable voices.
Eddie Robinson: Legendary performers in their own right. I mean, to be a part of this documentary. I mean, name a few. Lisa Mick Jagger. I mean, I think I, I thought I saw Tom Jones.
Lisa Cortés: Tom Jones, Nona Hendricks.
Eddie Robinson: Why should I cry? Nona Hendricks.
Lisa Cortés: Billy Porter.
Eddie Robinson: Billy Porter, yes. We’re finally able to hear from. Black gay scholars as well, and experts in culture ethnomusicologists.
Eddie Robinson: I mean, that’s what I really loved about this film as well, is that we were finally getting to hear analysis of a human being who’s made such a massive contribution to music. And through this documentary, we are receiving this examination from voices. Who’ve experienced the nuances of what it means to be gay, what it means to be queer.
Eddie Robinson: It just felt refreshing and on some level, exciting to actually finally hear us speak on topics, speak on issues we know quite a bit about as black, gay, queer individuals. And so, you know, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m, Thrilled that you did that deliberately.
Lisa Cortés: Well, you know, Eddie, I sometimes say I, I, I sought to decolonize the genre, you know, of, of music docs or certain expectations.
Lisa Cortés: And what was Als always important for me with this story mm-hmm. Is that it feel, felt immersive that the people that it’s Richard’s voice with that. It’s people who knew, worked, loved him. It’s people who are part of my chorus. Who are these great scholars, um, who should be a part of the critical academy?
Lisa Cortés: That is talking about who he is, you know, and, and then performances with contemporary artists like Valerie, June.
Lisa Cortés: Corey Henry,
Lisa Cortés: pastor John P. Kee,
Lisa Cortés: because they’re part of his legacy. They’re part of the immersive experience cuz you just don’t. Cd, archival, hear all these people talking. I also, you know, I want you to feel this, you know, I wanna rock your soul.
Lisa Cortés: And, and to do that, you have to break down some of the constructs that have been in place. With other music docs before to find a vocabulary and engagement with your audience. That’s in keeping with Richard’s spirit, Richard. Richard would, his spirit would not allow me to do no, you know, just add water kind of documentary, you know, if, if when you spend time with an.
Lisa Cortés: For many years, you connect with their essence, and his essence was about declaring who you are. Sometimes not knowing how to declare, but being bold, and there is a boldness that we are engaging in with the storytelling.
Eddie Robinson: Coming up, we continue our chat with acclaimed film director Lisa Cortés as we explore her latest documentary, Little Richard: I Am Everything She’ll share with us what parts of her research about the music icon surprised her the most. Plus we’ll get into a conversation about the notion of cultural appropriation versus cultural oblation when a certain.
Eddie Robinson: Makes a brilliant contribution to culture, but doesn’t receive the prestige or the money the originator truly deserved. And another interesting question, if Little Richard’s flamboyant nature and mannerism did not exist, would his accomplishments, his successes in later years had been more recognized with the music industry and even his fan base might have responded?
Eddie Robinson: We’ll ask the former music executive. I’m Eddie Robinson. I see you. We’ll return in just a moment.
Eddie Robinson: If you’re enjoying this program, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also, please take a minute to give us a review or comment. We love getting feedback from our listeners.
Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson and we’re chatting with film director Lisa Cortés, an Academy Award nominated and Emmy winning film producer and acclaim director. She executive produced the 2009 film Precious, a movie that received the audience award and the grand jury prize for best drama, the Sundance Film Festival.
Eddie Robinson: You know, it’s interesting to note that while we’re chatting about little. Lisa used to work with music moguls, Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, the founders of Def Jam. She even had an opportunity to lead A & R at Mercury Records, working with stars like Vanessa Williams and Brian McKnight. We’ll learn more about her career in the music industry later in this episode, but first, it’s all about this fascinating documentary about the complex legacy.
Eddie Robinson: Of little Richard that’s currently playing in select theaters and will eventually air on CNN and HBO Max. Let me ask you this, because there are several parts of the film that I want to get some more details on, but before we get into that, what was your favorite fact that you learned about Little Richard?
Eddie Robinson: The one thing that really shocked you? Threw you out of your seat when you were putting it all together in production?
Lisa Cortés: Well, I, I think my clutch, my pearls moment was,
Eddie Robinson: yeah
Lisa Cortés: learning about two things. You know, Richard is thrown out of his home when he’s a teenager because he’s queer. And in Macon, Georgia, there’s a club downtown.
Lisa Cortés: We are black and. Queer people come together and they take Richard in Anne’s TikTok. Now, this is told to me by the Macon historian. Okay. A woman who grew up there who’s a historian, and she told it to me rather matter of factly, but I was just like, Whoa.
Eddie Robinson: And they’re white.
Lisa Cortés: That’s deep. That is super deep. And then I’m leaning into the, to this camera here, like you’re, I’m whispering to you. Uh,
Eddie Robinson: yes.
Lisa Cortés: Then, um,
Eddie Robinson: yes,
Lisa Cortés: Richard goes on the road on the chitlin circuit and, and has a whole nother name and persona called Princess Levone. And Richard performs in drag though. That to me is like so mind blowing of
Eddie Robinson: I agree.
Lisa Cortés: This chosen family and community that shows up for him that helps to nurture what is unique and special about Richard and his gifts.
Eddie Robinson: And why do you think that that chitlin’ circuit circuit, you know, that, that, um, that road?
Eddie Robinson: Sam, what was his name?
Lisa Cortés: Sugar Foot Sam From Alabam.
Eddie Robinson: Yeah, Sugar Foot Sam from Alabama. Look at me talking about Sugarland. Sugarland, Texas. Why do you think this circuit served as a place that accepted and appreciated queer black performances?
Lisa Cortés: Well, they’re not the first, you know, there’s actually a famous black drag queen named William Dorsey Swan.
Lisa Cortés: And in DC in the 1880s and the 1890s, there are Crosstrek dressing balls. So, you know, it’s like this is part of a continuum. This is part of the fabric, the tapestry of America. Like that Richard shows up and he pulls together all these different experiences, um, to inform his music. Is, is one thing, but it also, when you start to look at the family tree, you’re like, whoa, he’s not the first.
Eddie Robinson: Yes, yes. Um, you know, there was something I think I recall Little Richard saying in the film where he said, you know, he, he had finished taking part in an orgy, and he’d have the Bible right there by his side. I mean, it, it was just kind of like, what? And I was speaking to a colleague here at the station and, and you know, she also saw the film.
Eddie Robinson: And we thoroughly enjoyed what you’ve done with this documentary and exploring the nuances and complexities of Little Richard’s relationship with the black church, there’s this element of shame that resonates with me through Little Richard’s story and perhaps for many people of color, gay queer who grew up in the South, where the shame you’ve taught to feel.
Eddie Robinson: Is truly something you have to live to understand. And we speak of these complexities, these contradictions and the black church, and how many are still quick to condemn and criticize the sinful nature of. These sexual proclivities of it all, and it still remains a hard pill to swallow for some church folk, pun intended.
Eddie Robinson: Um, because it seemed to me as if whenever Richard fell into the world of drugs and cocaine in the dark side, that’s when it pulled him closer to the components of religion and denial and repenting. You know, he was still very queer as your film beautifully portrays Lisa. And so to get to my question here, or at least a commentary of what you’ve done with telling the story, I love the way you’ve mapped out in a form of expressing his narrative through these nature driven divine universe montage moments that are used to juxtapose his talents, his musicianship, if you will, his expressive nature.
Eddie Robinson: Through this higher power of the divine capital “D”. Which is in an assumed defiance to the unnatural rhetoric Richard internalized throughout his life. And so I love the fact that you’ve done that. It’s that ying yang, the power differential we all experience. We all struggle with. And I just respect that you did that creatively interweaving this spiritual mind treatment, if you will, into his narrative.
Lisa Cortés: Yeah. Thank you. It’s, you know, there’s, we have a lot, we have Richard talking about what he did. We have a lot of, you know, spirited smart people. But what was also important in this film was the ability to create visual montage. Um, you know, lava, gurgling, supernovas, exploding sperm, you know, moving across the, the screen to really try to impart a sense of the innovation, the, the exuberance, his arrival, what it brought, um, and.
Lisa Cortés: Those montages, you know, that the editors created, really spoke to my heart and, and what I wanted to give to the audience of what it might have felt like in 1955 to hear this music, see this man and all the kinetic energy that came with him.
Lisa Cortés: Um, what did that feel like? And, and, and that’s the, the source of the, the visual montages or as we like to call, like the Tutti fruity explosion.
Eddie Robinson: Yes, exactly. Speaking of Tuty Fruity, um, you know, lyrics aside, you know, I mean, little Richard sold more than 30 million records worldwide. Golden. He claimed he has a buddy. He had such a huge influence on folks like David Bowie and Mick Jagger and The Beatles, , yeah, you there. I mean, there’s this picture of him with the Beatles, they’re holding onto him and grasping onto him as if he were Beyonce. I mean, it’s, it’s a really, really fascinating photo and you wouldn’t have thought that, you know these, you know, these white performers really. Truth be told of what Little Richard was kind of blurting out and throughout his life, I, I discovered this, I discovered that I’m the originator, the emancipator.
Eddie Robinson: You were providing proof, you were providing evidence. And so when, when you think about the notion of that little Richard. Tutti fruity, the, you know, the raunchy lyrics and whatnot. His hit song was banned by many white owned radio stations, but yet when white performers like Pat Boone and Elvis Presley, specially Saint covers, Their songs.
Eddie Robinson: Top the charts.
Eddie Robinson: It’s I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson. We’re chatting with award-winning filmmaker Lisa Cortés. So Lisa, tell us more about this appropriation versus oblation, because that notion is just so fascinating within this document.
Lisa Cortés: Yeah. Um, Zandria Robinson, one of our scholar. Speaks about this so poignant that that’s the criminality of what happens.
Lisa Cortés: We know about appropriation, we know we see Tutti Fruity being popularized. By Pat Boone and Elvis Presley and people saying, here’s the man who made it famous. And you see Pat Boone, and the song has been watered down, but it is oblation. That is the greater tragedy. Oblation means the negation of your contribution.
Lisa Cortés: It’s making you invisible. It’s affecting your ability to make money off of what you’ve created. So it’s, it’s three F three strikes of what happens with that oblation and black cultural product.
Eddie Robinson: Perfect analogy, those three strikes, you’re out, you know, Little Richard out, you know, and, and that’s what was really tragic about the whole thing.
Eddie Robinson: And so with that being. To me, Lisa, this still speaks volumes to what’s going on in the realm of social media. We’re seeing black content creators whose efforts are often stifled on these platforms, but that same content covered by white creators receives glowing support.
Eddie Robinson: So do you believe, Lisa, that there will come a time when the contributions made by people of color will indeed receive the respect the credit that they truly wholeheartedly deserve? Or will black culture similar to Little Richard’s career continue to be appropriated until it’s obliterated?
Lisa Cortés: No, I, I, I don’t think the black culture will ever be obliterated because black culture is consistently innovative. Um, and you know, that is the table that Langston is talking about. Um,
Eddie Robinson: there you go.
Lisa Cortés: We gotta watch out for the, the algorithm though. You know what I mean? Like sometimes I feel like the algorithm is not our friend, and I don’t mean that in the, in, in like in terms of a conspiracy based theory, but it’s true, you know, like is it putting forth and choosing non-black creators of something that you know is trending?
Lisa Cortés: Um, and I, and I think there was an interesting conversation to be had about. And how AI has built in systemic racist issues. I mean, that’s a whole nother show. It’s a whole nother program.
Eddie Robinson: Yeah.
Lisa Cortés: But as we talk about our art,
Eddie Robinson: yes.
Lisa Cortés: It’s consumption, it’s expansion and opportunities. We cannot negate the power of the algorithm and the power of AI.
Eddie Robinson: Dr. Zandria Robinson. You mentioned her earlier. She brings up an interesting note about queerness and says it’s not just about sexuality, but about a presence and a space that is different from what we require or expect different than the norm. And I’m just grateful that we had this documentary that didn’t focus.
Eddie Robinson: So much on that sexual component because it seems like there’s this notion that so many people, when you think of the gay community, when you think of the queer community, it’s all about sexuality and it’s not all about sex. It’s about understanding who we really are as individuals that share this planet with you.
Eddie Robinson: Many of us want the same aspirations for ourselves and for our families. We are not a monolith.
Lisa Cortés: You know, well, here’s what happened. Dr. Jason King, uh, NYU have known for many, many years
Eddie Robinson: also amazing.
Lisa Cortés: Yes. And did his interview. He says, well, do you know about so-and-so? This is what, this is what the tribe does for one another.
Lisa Cortés: Next verse says, well, you gotta talk to Zandria. You know, it was really
Eddie Robinson: interesting,
Lisa Cortés: amazing. As I did interviews and spent time with our contributors, when I met Lee Angel, She said to me, well, do you know about Sir Lady Jana?
Eddie Robinson: Wow, that’s the tribe.
Lisa Cortés: And you know, sir, lady Java’s like this superhero.
Lisa Cortés: I think that. You know, the intention of this film to, to give voice to some of these intimates in, in Richard’s life were people who had a, a, a great connection with the story and passion for the history opened portals, it opened possibilities in the storytelling.
Eddie Robinson: Do you think Lisa Cortés really wanna get your honest. Do you think if Little Richard was not as flamboyant, if he didn’t meet Sugarfoot Sam from Alabama, who had him dressing in drag in many of his performances, what if that didn’t happen? Uh, do you think in his later years his accomplishments would’ve been more recognized?
Lisa Cortés: I think it was an undeniable force. I think, you know, he still would have propelled this art form to the places that he did, uh, or it did, you know what, in, I’ve known Ramon Hervey, who was his manager for a time and who’s in the film, and you know, he, he’s very clear about, he feels that certain things were denied to Richard because being black, being gay, being in and out.
Lisa Cortés: Just did not fit the norm, you know? Um, but the essence of Little Richard, who he was and what he begat was undeniable.
Eddie Robinson: Coming up, we wrap up our chat with film director Lisa Cortés and her latest documentary Little Richard: I Am Everything. We’ll find out more about Lisa and her early career as a music executive at the Iconic Def Jam record label. Where artists like Jay-Z, Rihanna, Kanye West, DMX, and Ludacris, established their dominance in the industry.
Eddie Robinson: Plus, we’ll get more of her perspective on today’s music and why. There’s still only a few artists that have openly come out, and though it’s not easy, they’ve managed to muster up enough momentum and praise for what they do as entertainer. Will we get to see more of these kinds of artists and society not focus so hard on their sexual orientation?
Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson. Our final segment of comes your way in just a moment. We’ll be right back.
Eddie Robinson: If you’re enjoying this program, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also, please take a minute to give us a review or comment. We love getting feedback from our listeners.
Eddie Robinson: You are listening to I SEE U. I’m your host, Eddie Robinson. We’re here with film director Lisa Cortés. She’s calling us virtually from her home in Harlem, New York. Her latest documentary entitled Little Richard: I Am Everything Tells the story of the black queer origins of rock and roll. The movie sheds light into the complicated world of Richard Wayne Penniman, AKA a Little Richard.
Eddie Robinson: Through a plethora of archive and performance footage, interview clips, and vintage photos. The film reveals some surprising revelations about the music icon’s, life story, contradictions and everything. It also provides analysis from onscreen fact checkers, family, friends, scholars, and historians, all in an effort to dissect the legacy of a self proclaiming originator innovator, and emancipator Little Richard.
Eddie Robinson: I saw the film and what really pulled the emotion out of Little Richard was when he talked about his father, and I found that component fascinating. You know, his relationship that he had with his father and how strict he was when he was little. And you know, I didn’t realize that his father was both a minister. And owned a small nightclub and, and sold whiskey.
Lisa Cortés: A bootlegger.
Eddie Robinson: I mean, talk about contradiction, but you know, he was apparently very strict on him and it got little Richard choked up on the Donnie and Marie show that I saw the footage.
Eddie Robinson: With him saying he couldn’t do anything right. He hated him. And he would say some very intense things and, and what Billy Porter even said, it was soul crushing.
Eddie Robinson: I mean, these kinds of sort of elements really speak to a lot of gay people today, including myself. Though my father was not strict per se, but I never came out to him and I never came out to him until I was removed from my, from the auspices of the home. And as a 30 something year old, living in New York City, coming out to them over the phone, but they shut me out.
Eddie Robinson: My mom and my dad, um, shut me out for a year and didn’t talk to me, but for the fact that my father was the one. Who broke the silence and called me and said, we love you. You know, please, you know, come home and let’s, let’s chat a bit more. But again, it’s just this notion of what we have to go through, the nuances and you know, how we go through our lives.
Eddie Robinson: Dealing with something that we’ve suppressed for so long. I totally get the pendulum and Little Richard from, you know, for better or for worse, he certainly went through a pendulum and I’m so grateful that you explored all of that. And we can finally say, you know, we, we turned the light bulb on because I did not know any of that, or at least it was just so convoluted as to his story.
Eddie Robinson: And we finally get to see all of this in a brighter space with this documentary. I heard through the grapevine that. You’ve been an outlier all your life and you’re encouraged to tell the stories of people who pick pick up crayons and color outside. Those lines we’re encouraged by you, Lisa Cortés. So tell us more about you.
Eddie Robinson: Where are you from? What was it like growing up? Why did you become a filmmaker? What stories are on the horizon? Go.
Lisa Cortés: Is this called the lightning round? Eddie Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Okay.
Eddie Robinson: We’re trying to get everything in before you have to go.
Lisa Cortés: Well, I think you know what is, during this process of doing press, I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents and how they gave me the 64 pack of crayons. They gave me the 128. They said, go for it. They said, yes,
Eddie Robinson: 128.
Lisa Cortés: And, and they grew up in a very different time when they were told no a lot.
Eddie Robinson: Mm-hmm.
Lisa Cortés: And they were both rebels, they were artists, they were innovators. And they encouraged me. And you know, when I got in trouble in kindergarten for drawing a picture of my community, my family, black people, and my mother and I got in.
Lisa Cortés: And my mother, when she said, well, let me put my bra on and go down to that school, and she told my teacher, you know, Lisa can draw whatever she wants to, and this is her. This is her world. View, this is her family and there is nothing wrong with a picture full of brown people. To this day. I remember I was like standing outside the room when my mother had this conversation with my kindergarten teacher, and I am so blessed that I had people who inspired me to go for a career.
Lisa Cortés: In the music industry and to then work as a narrative producer of films like Precious in The Woodsman, and taught me that the value of stories of the people that we see every day, but we have no idea about how rich and complicated they are, have tremendous value and should have platforms. Will hopefully be inspirational, um, for others.
Eddie Robinson: And where was this from? Where, where are you from originally? From New york.
Lisa Cortés: Well, I’m not from this planet Eddie. I’m intergalactic.
Eddie Robinson: Oh, you’re, that’s, I thought so. I thought so. After watching that documentary,
Lisa Cortés: I, I came here
Eddie Robinson: outta this world.
Lisa Cortés: I came here on the mothership with George Clinton. Come on now.
Eddie Robinson: Oh, parliament Funkadelic. Oh, okay. Alright.
Lisa Cortés: I came to deliver the funk. Right. You know? Um,
Eddie Robinson: and it’s one nation under a groove.
Lisa Cortés: Exactly.
Eddie Robinson: I used to love them and I was scared. I was afraid of them. That was my first concert. My parents took me in Jackson, Mississippi. I was shook. I was so scared. I didn’t know what they were gonna do
Lisa Cortés: As Little Richard,
Eddie Robinson: but it was a great concert..
Lisa Cortés: A woo!
Eddie Robinson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Parliament Funkadelic love them. No, seriously. Where are you from?
Lisa Cortés: Oh my gosh. Okay. There was the lull. There was the lull cuz there was so much joy before we had to collect ourselves. Eddie. Um, yeah, you know what? I grew up between Connecticut and Harlem. My father is from Columbia, south America, so I’m a first generation on his side.
Lisa Cortés: My mom is a a PK (Preacher’s Kid) child. Her father was a pastor and theologian, and his church still exists here in Harlem. I had come from a long line of people who have been activists for change, both here and in South America, looking out for community and saying, no, we don’t accept things. We don’t accept. What you tell us is the box we have to fit in, which is going back to Zandria and you know, the, the normative is a box and, and
Eddie Robinson: that’s it.
Lisa Cortés: My examples in life has always been about liberation and freedom, and that means. We are not in the box. Maybe we’re building our own box and that there has to be a space for a table that allows for that kind of agency. I thought I was gonna be a singer.
Lisa Cortés: I was a singer in a band when I was in college and turned, learned quickly that, um, I could have a, I, I wanted to have a career in the music industry. I talk my way into a job at a little company called Def Jam, and I was so honored to work with artists in the late eighties and be able to, Be a part of exposing them outside of just our internal communities, you know, in the Bronx or you know, here in Manhattan.
Lisa Cortés: And that crossover, but crossover with integrity. Working with artists like LL COOL J. Or Public Enemy. And then went on to a career as a music executive at Mercury Records. You know, signing criminal rap groups like, uh, the Black Sheep.
Lisa Cortés: I guess producing the cast recording of Jelly’s Last Jam with George Wolf like. You know, I signed rock and roll bands. I signed spoken word artists like, so I am always interested in our stories, our voice, our values, and expanding the narrative and breaking us out of monolithic boxes.
Lisa Cortés: Oh, and I’m a Capricorn.
Eddie Robinson: I love Capricorns. And are you, are you a part of the queer community?
Lisa Cortés: I have been raised by the community, and that is, that’s the people who groom me.
Eddie Robinson: If you are listening to I SEE U, I’m Eddie Robinson and we’re here with acclaimed film director Lisa Cortés. She’s released a documentary called Little Richard: I Am Everything. Little Richard passed away in the year 2020 following complications from bone cancer. He was 87.
Eddie Robinson: You know, little Richard was able to garner an enormous amount of popularity as an out and flamboyant artist in his. You know, very commendable, courageous, brave thing that he had done. However, in this day and age, there are only a few artists that have openly come out and still muster enough momentum and praise for what they do and still earn a living as a musician, someone who is a former music executive, you know?
Eddie Robinson: Do you think there will ever be a time when more L G B T Q artists and musicians. Can shine in the spotlight and be seen for their remarkable artistry and musicianship and society. Not really focus so hard on their sexual orientation.
Lisa Cortés: Oh, absolutely. From little Nas X to Sam Smith, I went to Lil Nas X’s show here in New York at Radio City Music Hall.
Lisa Cortés: It it. So beautifully conceived and presented. And it was theatrical.
Lisa Cortés: You know it. There was a great investment that Lil NAS X made in presenting a narrative that centered queerness.
Eddie Robinson: That’s right.
Lisa Cortés: And um, you looked around in the audience who were going crazy for him, who were buying all the merchandise.
Lisa Cortés: And they came from all different walks of life.
Lisa Cortés: And then I look at an artist like Sam Smith, who I think is continuing to be relevant. In his or their musical offerings, so it is. Or even artists like the Indigo Girls, you know, who are still alive kicking tour. And have such an incredible fan base.
Lisa Cortés: So, um, I think that is something that is, is really heartening in a very good way.
Eddie Robinson: And to put a bow on the black church and the relationship with the gay community, do you think that will ever improve?
Lisa Cortés: Well, I, I don’t wanna call the black church a monolith.
Lisa Cortés: There are many different components of the church. There are many different communities, so I, I, I, I don’t, don’t, it wouldn’t be fair to say the black church, there are components of what we know as the black church that are still working on. Broadening their acceptance. And there are also many black churches that have already arrived at that place.
Eddie Robinson: Yeah. And it again, with seeing Little Richard’s life and how it impacted everything about him, in essence, you know, to the very end, you know, it just seems like, you know, this is still something that many people are grappling with as it relates to religion and what that means moving forward. Even as someone who would perhaps call themselves, quote unquote, a gay Christian.
Eddie Robinson: Right. A question that we always like to ask our guests. You know, you’re an Academy Award nominated Emmy award-winning film producer, celebrated director. You’ve worked on some outstanding projects over the course of your career, Lisa Cortés, what life lessons have you learned about yourself thus far?
Lisa Cortés: Eddie Robinson.
Eddie Robinson: Oh,
Lisa Cortés: hi. What I have learned on this journey is to know your truth and to know your tribe, and then you are never lost in a storm. You are surrounded with love. You are surrounded by people. You can call at three o’clock in the morning. You don’t have to figure. Like what is right for your structural integrity?
Lisa Cortés: Cuz you know it. Know your truth, know your tribe.
Eddie Robinson: This has been a pleasure. This has been so amazing. Thank you so much, Lisa. For providing this opportunity to connect with you and to learn more about this film and to learn more about you and to get some insight on what was, what’s been happening in your life.
Lisa Cortés: Yeah.
Eddie Robinson: Um, we really appreciate your time and
Lisa Cortés: thank you so much.
Eddie Robinson: Being a part of I SEE U.
Lisa Cortés: I thank you so much for this moving and thoughtful conversation.
Eddie Robinson: Thank you.
Lisa Cortés: Thank you.
Eddie Robinson: Our team includes technical director, Todd Hulslander, producer Laura Walker, editors Mark De Claudio, and Jonmitchell Goode. I SEE U is a production of Houston Public Media. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter and subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen and download your favorite shows. I’m your host and executive producer, Eddie Robinson, and I feel you.
Eddie Robinson: We hear you. I SEE U. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time.